Biden plays the nice guy with rowdy, rude House Republicans
If you tuned in to Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Joe Biden’s second as president, it felt at times like we were watching the shouting matches typical of the United Kingdom’s Parliament more than a speech to the United States Congress.
The unrulier members of the House, including loud-mouthed Republicans like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, interrupted Biden’s speech over and over again to yell “Liar!,” “Secure the border!,” “It’s your fault!” and other heckles unbefitting of the U.S. Capitol House chamber — but perfectly befitting this Republican Congress.
Unsurprisingly, Biden, ever the statesman, entertained and tolerated their jeers, at times even trying earnestly to reason with them, apparently believing this was a worthy exercise with a crew that has called for his impeachment.
More surprising, however, was new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy’s reaction to his own conference: He shushed them.
Not once but two or three times throughout the hour-plus long speech, McCarthy looked in the direction of the rowdy House, shook his head in displeasure, and visibly shushed them, trying in futility to corral the screaming idiots who couldn’t keep their composure. This, despite reports that McCarthy warned House members before the speech that the “cameras are on” and the “mics are hot.”
No surprise, Greene et al. didn’t care one bit about McCarthy’s gentle pleadings, and it’s unlikely they’ll be disciplined. In fact, when asked about the outbursts Wednesday morning on Fox News, McCarthy deflected and defended:
“Well, the president was trying to goad the members, and the members are passionate about it,” McCarthy said.
In a way, the shushing was symbolic of the long — or perhaps short? — journey McCarthy has ahead of him as speaker of this unholy mess of a Republican conference, some of whom didn’t want him to be speaker at all, and many of whom don’t enjoy his overtures to work with Biden on various agenda items. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time he clashes with other Republicans in the House.
As for Biden, this was a master class in, well, class.
Throughout his speech, he refused to respond to the impolitic and childish jeers and heckles in kind, instead imploring Republicans to fact check him if they didn’t believe him. “Look it up,” he said more than once, and, “I enjoy conversion,” as they booed in disagreement with his suggestion that some Republicans wanted to cut Social Security.
This was quintessential Joe. Long known for his empathy, compassion and willingness to work across the aisle, Biden’s spent his long career in politics putting an end to the cynical, old adage that nice guys finish last.
Winning the friendship of his Republican counterparts in the Senate, like the late John McCain and Lindsey Graham, has been one of his hallmarks. In the 2020 election, there was concern from the left that he was going too easy on Republicans. As one headline read after Biden’s first speech as the Democratic nominee: “Biden Reveals his General Election Weapon: Basic Human Kindness.”
That went a long way Tuesday night — Biden killed Republicans with kindness, and frankly much more than they deserved.
Just days before the State of the Union, Rep. Lauren Boebert appeared to pray for Biden’s death. Greene has repeatedly called for Biden’s impeachment, and even compared him to Hitler. And remember, back in 2021, Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted an anime video in which he violently attacks Biden. All three members were recently given spots on the House Oversight Committee by McCarthy.
But unlike his predecessor, Biden brought optimism and charity to his address, opting to promote American pride instead of American carnage. Instead of pitting neighbor against neighbor, he talked about the things we all have in common. Instead of fetishizing and weaponizing grievances, he acknowledged Americans’ fears while promising a better future.
I voted for Biden in 2020 not because I’d agree with all of his policies, but because after four years of Trump I believed Biden wanted to make America good again. Clearly he does.
Perhaps to a fault — I was hoping Biden would more forcefully call out the extremism in the Republican Party, the conspiracy theories and election denialism, the antisemitism and bigotry, the liars and the zealots. They’re a corrosive force in American politics and threaten our democracy.
But he’s far more polite than I am. Despite the childish and disruptive antics of the rude Republicans, Biden was unflappable and undeterred, refusing to meet them in the gutter and instead killing them with kindness. And in their efforts to embarrass Biden, they only ended up embarrassing themselves.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.